Love, Actually

I'm in love again, people! Real, true love. With this writer:


Ellen Gilchrist. She's a southern writer, born in Natchez, MS. Though I've heard her name, I'm only now reading her works. I am smitten.


Nora Jane: A Life in Stories

I have a love/hate relationship with my native Mississippi. One side of my family being genteel, the other white trash – filled with pedophiles and whispered rumors of in-breeding – conflict is inevitable. When one aunt offers delectable home cooked meals spread out in a clean dining room, and the other allows her grandchildren to "waller in the mud"- in a huge mud puddle that's more a small pond – while sitting around watching as if it's entertainment, something's off-balance. It gets far, far worse than that. My paternal side (trash) features highlights like imprisonment for pedophilia. And more.

Yet, despite this widespread conflict, Mississippi has birthed writers I idolize, specifically William Faulkner, Richard Wright and Eudora Welty, to name just three. The South as a whole has produced some of our country's finest literature, illustrating all the agony and ecstasy that is the American South.

How, I'll never understand. Perhaps it's the struggle: the imbalance of power, the frustration of climbing one's way out of the depths of ignorance and into enlightenment. I honestly don't know. But I do know southern literature is a genre unto itself, a very distinct literature.

And now, Ellen Gilchrist. Gorgeous, gorgeous prose. She writes like an angel:

"Her head of curly dark hair caught the morning sun, the sun caressed her. She was a beautiful child who looked so much like her dead father that it broke her mother's heart and made her drink. It made her grandmother glad. Nora Jane's father had been her oldest son. She thought God had given Nora Jane to her to make up for losing him. … It never occurred to her to rail at God or blame him for things. She thought of God as a fallback position in times of trouble. She thought of God as solace, patience, wisdom, forgiveness, compensation."

Look how much she tells you in such a short space. I envy that.

At other times, her writing is purely sensual:

"Nora Jane bent over the mirliton vines. They were beautiful, sticky and fragrant, climbing their trellis of chicken wire. The rich burgundy red fruit hung on its fragile stems, fell off into Nora Jane's hands at the slightest touch. … The dark red rind a half an inch thick, to protect the pulp seeds from the swarming insects of the tropics, for mirlitons are a tropical fruit …"

And, the best news of all:



  • The Annunciation (1983)
  • The Anna Papers (1988)
  • Net of Jewels (1992)
  • Starcarbon: A Meditation on Love (1994)
  • Anabasis (1994)
  • Sarah Conley (1997)
  • The Cabal (2000)

Story collections

  • In the Land of Dreamy Dreams (1981)
  • Victory over Japan (1984)
  • Drunk with Love (1986)
  • Light Can Be Both Wave and Particle (1989)
  • I Cannot Get You Close Enough: Three Novellas (1990)
  • Rhoda (1995)
  • The Courts of Love (1996)
  • Flights of Angels (1998)
  • Collected Stories (2000)
  • I, Rhoda Manning, Go Hunting With My Daddy (2002)
  • Nora Jane: A Life in Stories (2005)


  • The Land Surveyor's Daughter (poetry) (1979)
  • Riding out the Tropical Depression: Selected Poems, 1975-1985 (1986)
  • Falling Through Space: The Journals of Ellen Gilchrist (1987)
  • The Writing Life (essays) (2005)


2 thoughts on “Love, Actually

  1. I love that kind of writing — prose that borders on poetry. I’ve never read her before, but I think I’ll have to check her out. Thanks for the recommendation.


  2. Lisa, I just finished ‘Cry, the Beloved Country’ by Alan Paton, too. It’s another gorgeous book with prose that just sings. I’ll be posting a quote here in a few minutes.


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